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The official U.S. trade figures for July that came out this morning continued June’s encouraging pattern of smaller deficits amid continued (if subdued) American economic growth – but with a twist. The previous trade report showed that the overall goods and services shortfall shrank because exports rose healthily while imports slipped just slightly.

The July release showed a smaller trade gap due largely to lower imports. Exports improved, too, but just negligibly.

Yet the bottom line remained the same: an economic expansion that’s gotten a little healthier, because the nation is earning its way in the world to a modestly greater extent.

The specific numbers: The total trade deficit sank month-to-month by 12.65 percent in July – from $80.88 billion to a level of $70.65 billion that was the lowest for a single month since last October’s $68.16 billion. The drop, moreover, was the fourth straight – the longest such stretch since the six-month period between May and November, 2019 – months before the CCP Virus pandemic arrived state-side in force.

The only negative here: That June number was revised up a big 1.59 percent from the initially reported $79.61 billion.

Monthly shrinkage was also reported for goods trade – which comprises the lion’s share of total U.S. trade. Here in July the gap also declined for the fourth straight month – by 8.23 percent, from $99.26 billion to $91.09 billion, and the level was the lowest since October ($98.26 billion), too. And as with the overall deficit, this winning streak was the longest since that May-November span in 2019.

Meanwhile, the long-time U.S. services surplus – which has deteriorated dramatically during the pandemic era due to mandated and voluntary behavioral curbs that hammered industries like travel and tourism – widened by 11.19 percent sequentially in July, from $18.38 billion to $20.44 billion. The monthly increase was the third straight, the level was the highest since last December’s $21.66 billion, and the monthly jump the biggest since last November’s 12.22 percent.

A degree of skepticism may be in order, though, because the June services surplus was revised down a huge 7.47 percent.

Total exports edged up 0.20 percent on month in July, from $258.76 billion to $259.29 billion. However meager, the increase still produced the sixth straight monthly record and the sixth straight increase – matching the performance of Februay-August, 2021. But a sizable revision should be noted here, too, as June’s total was downgraded by 0.73 percent.

Goods exports dipped in July for the first time since January – by 0.16 percent, from an upwardly revised record $183.29 billion to $182.99 billion. But the figure is still the second ever and impressive considering the sluggish growth in which the global economy is mired and the multi-decade highs achieved by the U.S. dollar against most global currencies – which harms the price competitiveness of U.S.-made products.

Yet services exports climbed 1.10 percent, from a downwardly revised $75.47 billion to a record $76.30 billion. This increase was also the sixth in a row, and although June’s results were revised down by a substantial 2.94 percent, it remains the second best monthly performance ever.

Combined goods and services imports were down for a second straight month – by 2.86 percent from a downwardly revised $339.64 billion to $329.94 billion. This total was the lowest total since February’s $320.53 billion and the back-to-back decrease was the first such fall-off since the March-May, 2020 period – the peak of the CCP Virus’ first wave.

Goods imports also fell for a second straight month – by three percent, from $282.55 billion to $274.08 billion. And this back-to-back decrease was the first since March-May, 2020 as well.

Services imports in July experienced their first decline since January, weakening by 2.15 percent, from $57.09 billion to $55.86 billion. Even better: The June figure was revised down by a hefty 1.38 percent.

As known by RealityChek regulars, the non-oil goods deficit is a good global barometer for U.S. trade policy’s performance, because the oil and service trade flows it leaves out have rarely been the focus of U.S. trade agreements or other initiatives. This “Made in Washington” deficit tumbled for the fourth straight month too – by $100.29 billion to $89.96 billion.

As with some of the other trade flows, this deficit was the lowest since last October ($84.37), and the monthly fall-off was 10.93 percent. Moreover, the four straight months of improvement were the longest such stretch since June-October, 2007 – when the economy was approaching its worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Made in Washington exports in July increased for the sixth straight month, too – by 0.96 percent, from $151.841 to $153.301 billion. These overseas sales also set their sixth consecutive record, and the winning streak was the longest since the eight-month period between June, 2020 and January, 2021 – during the recovery from the virst virus wave.

These non-oil goods imports in July sank for the fourth straight month, and the 3.52 percent sequential drop brought the level to its lowest – $243.26 billion – since February’s $242.25 billion. This winning streak was the longest since the five-month stretch between peak pandemic-y December, 2020 to May, 2020.

Manufacturing’s huge and chronic trade gap narrowed on month in July, too, and for the second straight time. The drop was 6.12 percent, from Jue’s $130.05 billion to $122.09 billion, and this level was the lowest since February’s $106.49 billion.

Manufactures exports fell back from June’s record $114.78 billion to $109.50 billion. The 4.60 percent retreat left these sales at their lowest level since April’s $109.36 billion.

Manufactures imports fell faster – by 5.41 percent, from $244.83 billion to $231.59 billion. This total was also the lowest since April ($233.50 billion).

On a year-to-date basis, manufactures exports are up by 16.10 percent (from $643.07 billion to $746.62 billion. But the much greater amount of manufactures imports have surged by 18.38 percent (from $1.37285 trillion to 1.62524 trillion).

As a result, the year-to-date manufacturing trade shortfall has already hit $876.62 billion – a 20.12 percent jump from last year’s $729.78 billion, and as early as next month’s trade report, industry’s deficit could pass the trillion-dollar annual level for the fifth year in a row.

The also huge and chronic U.S. goods trade deficit with China decreased for the first time since April, dropping 6.90 percent from $36.95 billion (the highest figure since November, 2018) to $34.40 billion.

American goods exports to China advanced month-to-month in July by 5.04 percent, from $11.68 billion to $12.27 billion. And the much greater volume of imports slumped by 4.03 percent, from $48.63 billion (the third highest monthly total on record) to $46.66 billion.

But on a year-to-date basis, the China goods deficit has worsened by 26.42 percent. Since its growth rate is now faster than the 21.75 percent of the Made in Washington gap (its closest global proxy), it looks as if the impact has faded of the sweeping Trump tariffs (which the Biden administration has just announced it will keep in place).  

One likely reason: the 8.41 percent devaluation of China’s currency, the yuan, versus the U.S. dollar engineered by Beijing so far this year.

And a final July U.S. trade development worth noting: the 25.10 percent monthly burst of the goods deficit with global semiconductor manufacturing technology leader Taiwan to a new record $4.74 billion.

American merchandise imports of microchips and other products from the island grew by 15.71 percent on month in July, from $7.33 billion to an all-time high of $8.48 billion. But U.S. goods exports (which include much semiconductor manufacturing equipment) were up as well in July. The 5.64 percent increase produced the second best monthly total ever ($3.74 billion – behind only March’s $3.89 billion).